Souhan Call's for Mauer Move
While I have resisted moving Mauer both on the level of what I wanted to see happen and what I thought the Twins would do, I may be in the process of changing my mind. It's a Taylor trait to be stubborn, and perhaps I've held out on this for longer than I should have. If you haven't read Souhan's article (or one of Marty's articles, which I'm too lazy to look up right now) on this subject, please do -- they lay out the argument for moving Mauer very well, and I'm not going to attempt to rehash an already well-stated argument.
Instead, I want to make a couple of points involving why I've moved into the other camp. The biggest reason started to affect my thinking back in Spring Training, when Mauer got hurt. That injury, while never proven to be linked directly to Mauer's catching (and in fact it was probably more linked to Mauer's off-season running program), was nonetheless the kind of injury that are likely to affect catchers, and Mauer has proven he's susceptible. Nagging injuries of this type have bothered me more than anything else, and I can't deny that moving to third would reduce the strain on his legs and more than likely reduce the time that Mauer spends out of the lineup.
The other big change that has been obvious throughout the course of the year is that the Twins have no easy way to fill the hole they currently have at third base. Nick Punto is clearly not the solution. Matt Moses moved in the wrong direction this year and is back in AA. Brian Buscher had a very nice year, going from AA to AAA to the big leagues, but so far he doesn't seem ready to step in and become a productive major league regular next year. The free agent pool for third basemen this off-season will be thin, to say the least.
All of this left just two options for the Twins -- either live with a third baseman who is sub-par in 2008, or trade someone (such as Johan Santana) to try to fill a couple of big league needs. Mauer presents a third, and possibly best, option for the Twins at third base.
I still have concerns about such a move. I believe that Mauer is a brilliant athlete who is capable of picking up the nuances of third base very quickly, and capable of being a solid player at the position for years to come -- but belief is not knowledge. I've never seen him take grounders there, and I don't know whether this experiment would work or not. That's a reason for hesitation, but certainly not a deal-breaker. There's a related concern that is slightly more serious to me, involving whether or not Mauer would struggle offensively if he struggled defensively -- and that would be a true shame, considering that Mauer is capable of being a magnificent hitter for the rest of his career. While this bothers me a bit, I think the benefits (fewer injuries being the most significant) almost certainly outweigh this concern because of Mauer's athletic ability.
There is one more concern, although I dismissed it almost as soon as it came into my mind. Mauer the catcher is, potentially, a Hall of Fame caliber player. If he puts up a high batting average throughout his career, even if he never develops power, he has a chance. But what about at third base? A non-power hitting but high average third baseman making it to the Hall? My first thought was that this was much less likely. Of course, then I remembered Wade Boggs -- lifetime .328 average and just 118 homeruns. He just made it into the Hall a few years ago, so it's certainly possible. Mauer the third baseman (if he kept hitting and if he figured out how to play defense at the position) could still make the Hall.
Even if he couldn't, however -- even if the Twins knew that they'd be turning a potential Hall of Fame catcher into a non-Hall of Fame third baseman -- they shouldn't be thinking about the Hall of Fame. The Twins goal has to be to win, not to churn out Hall of Famers, and if they can be a better team with a healthy Mauer at third, then that's what they need to do, regardless of the consequences to Mauer's potential enshrinement.
One last point -- all of this is merely conjectural if Joe Mauer doesn't want to move. The Twins can't force Mauer to move, and it would be a bad idea to try. If Mauer wants to catch, the Twins should cajole, prod, and push -- but they can't force. Time will tell whether the Twins are interested in Mauer moving, and whether Mauer is receptive to the plan. Swallowing my pride, I'll now say that I think it's a conversation that the Twins and Mauer should have -- in time for Spring Training 2008.
Labels: Joe Mauer